The Business of Empathy: How Pharmacists Can Improve Their Work by Enhancing the Human Connection - MedCity News

Covid-19 has highlighted the value that pharmacists provide in disease management and prevention, but it has not been an easy road. Patients relied on their pharmacies for more services and support than before; however, increased demand stretched the capacity of many pharmacies. When patients don’t get the support they need, adherence suffers, directly impacting pharmacy operations. It is difficult to break a cycle at a critical time for the pharmacy business.

Pharmacies can build on the positive momentum gained during the pandemic to improve patient engagement and, consequently, medication adherence. A familiar face close to home can help ease patients’ anxiety as they deal with a new diagnosis. Empathic support can also have a positive impact on medication adherence – a key indicator of patient health and pharmacy business success. But pharmacies will need a sympathetic hand to provide this support.

The business of treatment adherence

Adherence to treatment is one key indicators of pharmacy efficiency. Unfortunately, pharmacies have a high barrier to overcome because about half of patients do not take their medication as prescribed. This lack of adherence results in approximately $500 billion in avoidable health care costs and contributes to up to 25% of hospitalizations each year.

Non-adherence is rarely caused by simple forgetting. Patients stop or never start taking medications for many reasons, including:

  • They can’t afford it.
  • They don’t understand the directions.
  • They see no need for the drugs.
  • They fear the side effects.
  • They are worried, scared, anxious, confused.

Regardless of the cause, the result is the same: potentially compromised patient health and lost pharmacy revenue.

Who owns the adherence problem?

Everyone has an attachment problem. Recognizing that adherence is a complex issue, all healthcare providers must come together to solve the problem. Addressing adherence requires a fundamental understanding of the human factors behind the problem and the solution.

Pharmacist-provided care requires empathy and genuine human connection. Practicing empathy leads to countless benefits for patients, including better adherence to treatment, fewer hospital admissions and lower stress— the latter of which is associated with numerous health improvements.

Improving patient engagement is key to improving medication adherence and thus improving pharmacy efficiency and profitability. Engaged entities with prescribers who initiate the dialogue about the benefits and risks of the prescribed drug, possible side effects and cost.

Pharmacists must continue this conversation to ensure patients are filling prescriptions and taking medications as prescribed. Given the shortage of staff, the matter is not an easy one. A less expensive empathic support program would help fill the gap.

Another important reason to focus on patient engagement: it has to do with payment for pharmacy services. The Pharmacy Quality Alliance advocates for care provided by a pharmacist as part of healthcare’s shift to value-based payment models. Working models based on financially sustainable, pharmacist-provided care lead to improved adherence, PQA reports.

To improve business performance, pharmacies must also focus on patient satisfaction – an important factor in retaining existing customers and acquiring new ones. Pharmacies can improve both engagement and satisfaction with a subtle shift in philosophy from patient-centered to compassionate care.

What is empathy in pharmacy?

Empathy is the ability or capacity to understand or feel the patient’s situation, perspectives, and feelings. In other words, it’s the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is a human connection that inspires confidence and builds trust between two people.

Empathic care is improving patient satisfaction. Here’s an example: A pharmacy customer is angry because her prescription is delayed. The pharmacy technician understands that the customer is not angry with her. She is afraid because she does not know what will happen if she misses a dose of her medicine. Instead of shutting down emotionally and completing the transaction as quickly as possible, the pharmacy technician explains the reason for the delay. She relays the patient’s concerns to the pharmacist, who provides a missed medication report. The pharmacy tech also places the prescription on an automatic refill plan to prevent future delays.

By practicing empathic care, pharmacies achieve better understanding with their patients, engender trust and create loyal customers. Loyalty manifests itself in a number of ways, from glowing reviews to customer retention, new customer acquisition, higher quality ratings and increased fees for services, all of which help grow a pharmacy’s business.

How to deliver a more human experience through technology

While most pharmacies strive to provide attentive, empathetic customer service, they are also stretched thin. Recently National Association of Pharmacy Technicians study found that almost all (91.4%) pharmacy technicians experienced burnout caused by unmanageable workloads. Another study found that most (80%) pharmacies have problems finding pharmacists.

Technology that is easy to implement and unobtrusive to the workflow can relieve some of the burden on busy pharmacies. Low-code process automation software can take over common repetitive tasks, including measuring medications, filling orders, managing inventory, and notifying patients that their prescriptions are ready for pickup. Automating these tasks frees staff to focus on higher-value activities, such as genuine patient communication.

Some pharmacists are using digital tools to provide support services to Medicare providers. Pharmacists can conduct virtual consultations to discuss new prescriptions, provide medication therapy and chronic care management, as well as other services related to healthcare providers.

Research, however, shows that patients want to be seen, heard and met where they are emotionally. Not “messaged” or “attached” repeatedly, but really heard. The concept of health itself has evolved over the past few years, one example being the shift in vernacular from ‘patient’ to ‘person’.

Technology can support a more meaningful human connection. Based on the data, will the patient need a follow-up call the day after picking up their prescription? Would they appreciate a follow-up call if they haven’t picked up a prescription in a few days? This type of simple registration can open the door to more in-depth conversations about cost, administration, or side effects. It can also provide a space for the patient to express their concerns, worries or confusion about their treatment. Or it may simply trigger the patient’s memory.

Studies show that empathetic, positive communication is associated with improved patient satisfaction and quality of life compared to usual care. Ann Accenture study of nearly 1,800 patients found that the most important factor in creating a positive experience was a provider “who clearly explains the patient’s condition and treatment” (55%), followed closely by “a provider who listens, understands the patient’s needs, and provides emotional support ” (52%).

Pharmacies can be instrumental in instilling positive behavioral changes in the patients they serve. Behavior is the result of our motivation, ability and speed. When pharmacies engage on a human level with patient support programs, patients become more fully engaged in their treatment, resulting in potentially significant health benefits. The human-to-human connection frees patients from isolation, gives them confidence in their recommended treatment and ensures that people remain first in the digital/AI age.

Empathy is good business

Developing meaningful relationships with patients creates an emotional bond that helps patients make lasting change—including taking their medications as prescribed. Empathy activates and moves patients from emotion to action. When that action involves more prescriptions filled and refilled as directed by doctors, it’s good business driven by empathy.

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